Wednesday, 5 August 2015

St Simon's Church - The Changes in 1973 - Part 1

In 1973, St Simon's ceased to exist as a separate Parish, although some services were still held there. Here is the Dean's Letter in "The Pilot" in which he explains what is happening, and why. It is interesting that it was St James Church which became part of the Jersey Arts Centre, when it too closed down.

Amazingly, despite the decline in clergy numbers, the Anglican Church in Jersey still remains ridiculously overmanned compared to counterparts in the UK. This seems to be because it is shielded in several ways - maintenance not just of Parish churches, but also Parish rectories, falls to the Parish ratepayer.

Clearly the Parish churches, probably all or most predating the Battle of Hastings are part of Jersey's heritage and should be maintained, just as the historical castles are, and funding would be needed either from the States or Parishes. But in the recent updated Jersey Canons (Anglican Church Law for the Island), the current Dean, Bob Key, ensured that no two Parishes can share the same rector.

The decline in clergy has led to Parishes in the UK being amalgamated, something which cannot happen unless the States vote a change in the Jersey Canon Law. But it does mean that Jersey, in a way, is taking more than its fair share of clergy, so that less are available elsewhere. The same is true in Guernsey.

Whether more district churches should go is a moot point, as they are often better attended than the Parish churches. And whether ratepayers should continue to pay for maintenance of Rectories is more questionable.

Letter from the Dean, Tom Goss

My dear Friends,

St Simon's Church is not facing destruction or even closure. I think it as well to start with this bald statement of fact because it became clear at the recent meeting of the Deanery Synod that many people were under a misapprehension. What has been proposed, and accepted by a considerable majority of the Synod, is that the parishes of St Simon and All Saints shall become one parish.

But let's begin at the beginning. In 1967 Dean Giles received a letter from the Bishop of Winchester asking that the Deanery Synod form a working party to review the work of the Church in St Helier with particular reference to the best use of the churches' resources in money, manpower and buildings. The reason for the Bishop's request was that the Christian Churches find themselves faced with new and difficult problems, because :-

a. We are soon going to be desperately short of clergy. At present we have enough and to spare, but the great majority of them are in the 55/65 age group and as their retirement becomes due there will be few younger men to replace them.

b. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find funds to cover the enormous expenses of the Church - e.g., maintenance of ancient churches, many of them under-used ; building of new churches and church halls in new townships ; payment of clergy, etc.

In view of the shortage of manpower and money a serious attempt is being made all over Great Britain to unite parishes where the populations are small, or churches too close together, to justify their continuance. This has sometimes meant the closure of churches, but never where they are of historic or aesthetic or practical value. More often it has meant that one parson has been made responsible for two or three parishes which for convenience have been united into one parish.

Occasionally church buildings have been shared with other denominations which have a similar problem.

In Jersey we are almost ridiculously over-churched. There are, I believe, 70 Christian churches in Jersey for a population of approximately 70,000, not all of whom are Christians -one per thousand people. The average over the whole of Great Britain is more like one per 10,000. So it is not surprising that we have been asked to look around and see if we in Jersey can help with the economies.

The Working Party has been studying the problem for nearly six years and it is indicative of the care they are taking that their work is still by no means finished. There may be other parishes in St Helier where economies could be made. But the first conclusion they have come to is that the most obvious place for economy is in the parishes of St Simon and All Saints, and they felt it advisable to issue an interim report with recommendations which they have now presented to the Deanery Synod.

The first recommendation is " That the two present Ecclesiastical Districts be merged ", and this was carried at the Synod by 30 votes to 19. The second, " That All Saints be retained for the corporate worship of the new parish ", was carried by the narrow majority of 24/21, which reflects, I think, the feeling (with which I agree) that St Simon's should remain open for worship. There was also a substantial majority (33/4) that a new vicarage be built on the site which is available near All Saints' Church. This to my mind is essential. The present St Simon's Vicarage is quite unsuitable and could never be made otherwise.

In view of the Synod's approval of these recommendations I have thought it right to ask the Legislation Committee of the States of Jersey to take the necessary legal steps to unite the parishes of All Saints and St Simon. The effect of this will be to make one parish (the Parish of All Saints with St Simon) with one Vicar and one Church Council. Both churches will remain in use as now but All Saints' Church, which is by far the better supported of the two, will be the parish church.

All of us understand that the people of St Simon's Church will feel some regret . The fact that their numbers are few does not mean that their love for their church is any less. But I would ask them to remember that their church and all it stands for is still there and there is no reason why it should not flourish more than in the past.

My hope is that St Simon's, as well as being a place primarily devoted to worship of a particular style, will become a sort of Religions Art Centre for all denominations. It is a church that would lend itself extraordinarily well to this, with its beautiful architecture, fine organ and excellent acoustics. I believe every effort should now be made to develop its undoubted potentialities in this direction. Its proposed "demotion" from parish church to chapel-of-ease seems to me of less importance than some have supposed. The fact that a church bears the title of "parish church" does not make it great; I have known mission huts make as great an impact as many a fine parish church, and I believe St Simon's can, with the strong backing of the people of All Saints, now occupy a place of real consequence in Jersey.

But this will not come to pass without the goodwill of the people of All Saints and St Simon. Without goodwill on all sides, and without a real determination from both congregations to make both churches prosper, we shall have nothing better to show than a few economies and a less cumbersome organization. The door is wide open for a wonderful future for both communities, for not only will All Saints have the support of the people of St Simon but St Simon's will have the added strength and backing of the people of All Saints. It is almost like a blood transfusion, bring-ing hope of new vitality. St Simon's is not dead nor even dying. It is offered a new lease of life.

Always your friend,


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